Death Mask
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Basic Information

The death mask is a piece of funerary art that occurs in a variety of cultures, consisting of a mask made from a cast of a dead person's face. What use the mask is put to depends on the culture using it.

In some - notably the Romans - the mask serves as a memento of the dead person and may well be displayed in or around the family home and possibly even worn by a proxy for the dead person at significant events (the Romans brought them out for funerals of the dead person's descendants but some kind of day of the dead would also seem an appropriate moment). In others (such as the Egyptians and several pre-Columbian American cultures) the mask stays with the body and covers the Corpse's face, hiding the decay and keeping the illusion of life.

In some cultures a death mask could be highly ornate and valuable - gold was a common constituent and the Chinese favoured the use of jade, but even without precious materials the art value may be significant. Thus a death mask could well constitute treasure … assuming that it doesn't get broken in the attempt to remove it from its current owner.


1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • A death mask might be a useful tool for a shaman or medium who wishes to contact or channel the spirit of a dead person.
  • It might also serve as a soul jar or a some other repository of power for a mummy, lich or similar undead.
  • It could also very well be worn by (say) a mummy, disgusing it's true nature, especially if the mask happened to be very lifelike.
  • Could be useful in identifying heredity - or even recognising statues in ruins - if you're familiar with a family's death masks.
  • In the Roman tradition there were rules about the status of people whose imagines could be displayed - and if someone had a lot of them, it was a sure sign of an ancient and august family.
    • Interesting, then if the senex sordissimus in your insula dies drunk and alone, only for your slaves to report back that they found a chest full of imagines when clearing his room. Did he steal them from some boni family, or was he the last of some ancient family, perhaps (in the late republic at least) a fugitive from the prescriptions?
  • Might work as protection to enter a warded family tomb - the guardians are trained to recognise the death masks of those buried there and allow through anyone wearing one on the assumption that they are relatives, either dropping off or coming to tend the tomb.
  • The buried variety were often made of precious metals and so would constitute treasure.
  • A long dead spirit possessing a living body might give itself away by insisting on wearing its own death mask rather than look on a stolen face all the time.
  • In a culture more given to hereditary offices than the Romans, there might be overlap with the mask of office: the lord wears the faces of his ancestors while ruling, with which face depending on whether he wants to remind people of the ancestor best known for even-handed justice, cunning military strategy, devout faith, a hair-trigger temper…
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